Gender Matters in Health: Inequalities in Childbirth

Earlier this month, our Head of Development Catriona Kirkpatrick attended an International Women’s Day event ‘We Need to Talk about Race’, at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) exploring racial inequalities in childbirth in the UK. Here, she writes about the event and how this issue is reflected in Scotland.

A recent report from MBRRACE, Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care, which shows that black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, was the impetus for the event at the RCOG. The report shows that women with mixed ethnicity are also three times as likely to die in childbirth and Asian women are twice as likely to die in childbirth. To date, no research has been conducted into why this is and the MBRRACE report states ‘At present we don’t have enough information to explain the complex and multiple factors at play. Understanding these disparities needs urgent research and action’.

There were a wide range of speakers at the event providing their personal and professional experiences and views. It was clear that there is a very real need to act on this now and that the disparity in outcomes is most likely as a result of racism, both overt and unconscious.

Although there was a consensus that there was a need to change the structural racism in the health system, there was no immediate or obvious way to achieve this. It was widely recognised that there is a long way to go and that it will not be an easy process. It was also very clear that there is a need to engage with women from BME communities to understand how their experiences can be improved.

From a Scottish perspective, we are not aware of any plans to do further research into this issue in Scotland or of any proposed action to directly address this inequality. Unfortunately, accurate data is not currently available at a Scottish level as it is not gathered in by the Information Services Division or National Records of Scotland and recording of ethnicity of mothers is not currently mandatory for NHS boards in Scotland.

Engender will be working in partnership with the Health and Social Care Alliance to convene a roundtable of relevant parties later in the year to try to achieve a better understanding of how this issue is reflected in Scotland and what action is needed to address it.

If you have an interest in this area of work or would like more information or to register interest in the roundtable discussion please contact

Here are some links to further resources that may be of interest:

Amali Lokugamage and Alice Meredith: Women from ethnic minorities face structural racism when seeking and accessing healthcare (BMJ Opinion)

British Medical Journal: Racism in medicine (BMJ)

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